Iran and the need for international election monitors

Dear Friends,

Since the protests concerning the contested elections in Iran continue and have become 'front page news', the call of citizens of the world for permanent UN election monitors is timely. Thus I would be glad if you could share it with others. With best wishes, Rene Wadlow

International Election Monitors:

Agents of Free Elections

Rene Wadlow*



The post-election demonstrations in Iran which have led to deaths and arrests indicate that a large number of Iranians believe that the election count has been the result of fraud. The regime had hoped to prevent a massive show of democratic stirring by a show of force and by cutting off means of communication — web sites and cellphones. However, the fact that hundreds of thousands came out on the avenues of Tehran and in less numbers in other cities indicates a failure of the repressive policies. Even if large protests do not continue, a ‘wind of change’ has blown over Iran.



The Iranian government had declined the offers of international monitoring of the elections, and thus the world community is left with only the word of the Iranian government that the election process was free and fair. The wide victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — 62.6 percent against some 34 percent for his main challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi, goes against earlier opinion polls and an increasing popularity of Moussavi in the late stages of the election campaign. Mir Hussein Moussavi had been Prime Minister during the long and costly-in-life war with Iraq (1980-1988).



After four years of President Ahmadinejad’s weak economic policies as well as his confrontation with many other countries, many Iranians were looking for a change. For the elections, President Ahmadinejad tried to build his support in the rural areas with last moment rural development efforts which his opponents saw as transparent ‘bribes’. He had lost much support among educated Middle Class urban voters who wanted a better standard of living, employment opportunities for the young, and greater personal freedoms.



Thus, the election could have been close even if Ahmadinejad had won fairly, having the resources of the State at his control. Now, there is great scepticism concerning the outcome both in Iran and in the world community. The scepticism is so great that a promise by the Guide of the Iranian regime, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been made concerning a recount in certain contested areas. However, electoral fraud is rarely at the counting stage. One can recount a stuffed ballot box and come up with the same number of votes. This is why the whole electoral process needs to be monitored by independent election agents.



Citizens of the World have often called for international, basically UN supervision, of elections. The organization of elections remains a prerogative of the national – administrative sub-divisions of the State, and local governments. However, in cases where the election campaign can be tense and prone to violence as was the presidential election of Zimbabwe, or when there has been a past history of fraud, international, independent monitors are important agents of fair elections and help to protect human rights, to strengthen the rule of law and to ensure pluralistic democracy.



Election observation work is an important activity for the 56 member States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights housed in Warsaw, Poland. The Office for Democratic Institutions, originally called the Office for Free Elections, first played an important role in the democratic transition in post-communist countries. While its observation of elections is its most visible task, the Office also conducts a number of other useful election-related activities: reviewing electoral legislation, training observers, and publishing guidelines and handbooks about electoral issues.



The Office for Democratic Institutions is concerned with a wholistic approach to election monitoring including the following:

- Respect for basic fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of assembly, of association, and expression;

- Respect for the civil and political rights of the candidates and voters;

- Compilation of accurate voter lists;

- Equal opportunities to campaign in a free environment;

- Equitable access to the media;

- Impartial election administrative bodies;

- Unhindered access for international and domestic election observers;

- Effective representation and participation of women:

- Effective representation of national minorities;

- Access for disabled voters;

- Honest and transparent counting and tabulation of the votes;

- Effective complaints and appeals process with an independent judiciary.



The United Nations has no comparable permanent election monitoring office, but on an ad hoc basis the UN played an important monitoring role in the first multi-racial elections in South Africa, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has provided election aid and monitoring in countries such as Nepal as that country was coming out of a decade of armed violence.



The Iranian government would have been wise to request international monitoring for its presidential elections. Now it is too late. It is unlikely that a new election will be held to replace the contested one. The Iranian elections have indicated a wide current of support for change. The hesitations of the ruling circle concerning post-election manifestations have highlighted division of views within this ruling circle. The demonstrations have also indicated to the world community as a whole the need for independent election monitoring. Steps should be taken quickly for the UN to provide such services drawing on the rich experience of the OSCE.



*Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens

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